COVID-19’s focus on home has brought a lot of issues to light. Our homes are one of the reasons some of us are more likely to contract the virus than others. COVID-19 has also exposed gaps in home-based access to broadband internet.
Why is this an issue?
Without broadband access, people are limited their ability to work from home or to continue at school. Both contribute to housing stability. For today’s adults, it can mean being able to pay rent or make mortgage payments. For tomorrow’s adults, completing school means access to jobs with adequate pay to be able to purchase or rent housing.
Who is being left out?
We’re aware of two groups who are likely to have broadband access issues: people living where broadband isn’t available (mainly rural areas) and people with low- and no- incomes. African Americans, Latinex and Indigenous people are prominently represented in the low- and no- income group.
Opening the broadband internet door to more people, especially students
Here are some ideas that have been reported and could be helpful:
- U.S. schools were ordered to end discrimination in 1954, a court order that has yet to be effectively implemented. COVID-19 has presented a twist in the court-ordered requirement that students have equal access to learning. Temporarily at least, equal opportunity does not mean attendance at school but equal opportunity to learn at home. Read more at businesswire: DHA, Housing Solutions for North Texas Focuses on Advancing Equity in Education to Help Create Opportunities for the Communities It Serves
- The U.S.’s McKinney-Vento Act, which dates to 1987, has provided assistance for students who are homeless. It might be a prototype for extending assistance to families requiring housing support whose resources can not stretch to provide the equality of opportunity required by the courts. Read more about this support here: Supports To Students Experiencing Homelessness: A Tale Of Uneven Access
- Still in the U.S., COVID-19 temporary emergency funding is being used to provide families with high speed internet (and in some cases computers) so that children can continue their classroom learning from home. That funding is being stretched by negotiating deals with internet providers and other innovative partnerships to procure hardware and software for home based learning at specific locations (e.g. public housing projects that house families). This translates to temporary access for learners and great publicity for the providers and partners. Public housing managers, having organized a solution in the short term, are already thinking about the future when that funding will run out. Try: Internet Connections Broaden The Definition of Housing Infrastructure
- In the U.K., additional public support has been extended to university students who are attending school without family supports (children and youth who have been in the care of the state). Try: COVID-19: Public Support To A Special Group Of University Students
Thinking about broadband as a community resource
The New York state legislature has been held up in its efforts to make broadband internet service more accessible. Legislators are arguing about who should get access: people in homeless shelters or people in rural New York state. Read in Observer: Looming Fight For Broadband Internet Access In Homeless Shelters Statewide
They might want to consider community based internet. As unlikely as it might seem, it does exist. Here’s a story from Northern Ontario. Internet businesses assessed these rural communities as NWD (not worth doing), so the communities stepped up. Read in CBC: Is Making Internet A Public Utility The Best Way To Get Northern Ontario Connected?
For those interested in pursuing the idea of community based internet, here is advice from Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Lawn Signs and Flyers are the Engines Driving Community Broadband
And at a larger scale, community based internet has been provided state-wide in Estonia since 2001, when it was declared a human right. Read more in The Guardian: Lessons From Estonia: Why It Excels At Digital Learning During Covid
How did Estonia get on this track? Local people there say that the decision makers were young and open to new ways of doing things. Could this happen elsewhere? We can only hope so for the sake of every future adult.